Monday, May 27, 2013

Casisano Colombaio Brunello di Montalcino (2003)

The rays of sunshine blanket the rolling hills with light, emphasizing the rows and rows of grape vines.  The warmth of the light is taken into every vine, leaf and grape growing on each rounded peak.  The green hills and vines seem endless, going in every direction, broken up with only the tan-colored, rustic farmhouses and sliced by brown, heavily worn paths. 

These are the images that my mind conjures whenever I think of the many different wines from Tuscany.  Those images are loosely based upon my personal experience of visiting two very spectacular vineyards in the Chianti Classico region.  (The vineyards are maintained by Marchesi di Frescobaldi and Marchesi d'Antinori.)  However, I suspect that the images of rolling hills, rustic  farmhouses can be found throughout Tuscany, even around the town of Montalcino, which can be found not too far from Siena.

Montalcino has a long history, one that most likely dates back as to pre-Roman times, when the Etruscans settled the area.  However, the first mention of the town dates to the ninth century, when a reference was made to a church built by the monks from Abbey d'SantAtimo. The first reference to the wines produced around Montalcino does not appear until five hundred years later in the fourteenth century.

The most prominent wine produced in Montalcino is the Brunello di Montalcino.  The wine is made with a clone of the Sangiovese grape known as the Sangiovese Grosso.  While the name would seem to suggest large grapes or berries (the word "grosso" in Italian means big), the grapes are actually medium to small in size.  The "grosso" may be a reference more to the aromas or flavors of the resulting wine, or, perhaps to the status of that resulting wine as one of the most valued wines from Italy. 

The production of Brunello di Montalcino is highly regulated.  The wine must be produced with 100% Sangiovese Grosso grapes grown within the region outlined by the rules governing its Denominazione di origine controllata or DOCG.  Once the grapes are harvested, they undergo a lengthy fermentation.  The fermentation can take place either in botte, which are large Slavonian casks that impart a little oak flavor to the wine, or en barrique, which involves the use of a series of different sized barrels.  With this latter method, wine from larger barrels is added to small barrels, where it continues to ferment and its flavors further concentrate.  This technique also tends to add a little vanilla flavor, along with the oak from the barrels.  Regardless of the fermentation technique, the wine is aged for at least two years in barrels and at least four months in the bottle.  If it is a Brunello di Montalcino, then it must be aged for a minimum of three years in oak, with at least six months in the bottle.  The wine itself can not be sold for at least five years following the harvest, six years if it is a riserva.  Whether it is a Brunello or a riserva, these wines are some of the most expensive wines produced in Italy.

Fortunately, I came across a "modestly priced" bottle of Brunello di Montalcino.  Normally, I do not buy expensive bottles of wine, because I am a firm believer that cost does not equal quality.  I still wanted to try a Brunello di Montalcino and, when I came across a wine that was about $50.00, I thought that was about right.  (Normally, bottles of Brunello exceed $100.00 and can easily be a couple of hundred of dollars.)

This particular Brunello di Montalcino was produced by Casisano-Colombaio.  If you check out their website, you can see many of the images that are conjured up in mind when it comes to Italian wine.  (Honestly, I wrote the opening paragraph before I checked out the website.)  This particular Brunello is aged three years in the Slavonian casks and six months in the bottle.  I decanted the wine for about forty-five minutes before pouring it into glasses.  When I poured the wine, I could see its dark cranberry color, which spoke of its age and its depth.  The wine has earthy aromas, hinting perhaps of the soil from which the vines grew and the grapes ripened.  Those earthy elements were accompanied by scents of red cherries and flowers.  These aromas provided only a glimpse of the taste of the wine itself.  I could easily discern the full ripe cherries, but there were also other fruit flavors in the background, such as raisins, plums and/or prunes.  There were some tannins in the wine, which provided a little astringency with the dryness of the wine, but, the tannins were far less than what I expected.  

When it comes to food pairing, this wine goes with a wide range of Tuscan dishes.  From Bistecca alla Fiorentina to any pasta dish made with a red tomato sauce, this wine would make a good pairing.  I paired this wine with handmade cavatelli, which was served with a homemade tomato sauce and meatballs made with pork and veal.

As I noted above, the Brunello di Montalcino -- this "King" of Italian wines -- can command a regal sum of money.  If someone was going to splurge for a wine, then a Brunello may be the way to go.  


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